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Comparing Herman Melville's Benito Cereno and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Slavery is a topic much written about, especially in nineteenth
century literature. Many books and poems have been written in favor or
against it. Two stories written in the decade before the Civil War,
when the discussion about slavery was at its height, still stand out
today. Herman Melville's Benito Cereno (1855, 1856) and Harriet
Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) both criticize the
institution of slavery, but in a different way. Where Melville is
quite subtle, Beecher Stowe is much more obvious and sentimental.

In Benito Cereno Melville uses irony and the naivety of Captain Delano
as means to criticize slavery. He does this in a very subtle and
tricky way. The reader is misled through the whole story, but that is
only because of Captain Delano's description and misunderstanding of
the situation on the San Dominick. Captain Delano is incapable of
realizing what is really going on onboard. There are several passages
in the story where this comes plainly clear. Melville more or less
apologizes to the reader for this, by explaining the character of
Captain Delano in the fourth paragraph of the story, "a person of a
singularly undistrustful good nature, not liable, except on
extraordinary and repeated incentives, and hardly then, to indulge in
personal alarms, any way involving the imputation of malign evil in
man. Whether, in view of what humanity is capable, such a trait
implies, along with a benevolent heart, more than ordinary quickness
and accuracy of intellectual perception, may be left to the wise to
determine".[1] There are several scenes in the story where Captain
Delano's naivety becomes rather embarrassing afterwards. When reading
the story for the first time the reader does not know Cap...


... middle of paper ...


...e. By making a sentimental and not too difficult story she was
able to spread her criticism on slavery under a large audience. And
though Melville's story may be literary as good or even better than
Beecher Stowe's, history has proven the former more effective.


Works Cited

[1] Herman Melville, Benito Cereno. In: Nina Baym (ed.), The Norton
Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Fifth edition (New York,
London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), p. 1134, 1135.

[2] Herman Melville, Benito Cereno. In: Nina Baym (ed.), The Norton
Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Fifth edition (New York,
London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), p.1166

[3] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In: Nina Baym (ed.), The
Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Fifth edition (New
York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), p. 803


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